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We have long been concerned with the high numbers of children being excluded from mainstream schools, including those with Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND). A recent report from IPPR, Making the Difference, argued that alongside the growing number of official exclusions, there are also significant issues with how unofficial exclusions are being used by schools. It also highlighted that excluded children are often the most vulnerable: “twice as likely to be in the care of the state, four times more likely to have grown up in poverty, seven times more likely to have a special educational need and 10 times more likely to suffer recognised mental health problems.”

Consequently, we deemed it important to hear directly from children themselves, particularly as there is a gap in existing research of qualitative research with children and young people about these issues. The aim of this research was to gain a better understanding of the lived experiences of children excluded, both officially and unofficially, from mainstream education. Whilst the research sought to understand the experiences of all children excluded from school, there was a particular focus on the experiences of those with SEND issues. This is because, as the IPPR research highlighted, these children as a particular group can be managed out of mainstream education, formally or informally, because schools fail to understand or support their behavioural and educational needs. The 2017/18 Ofsted annual report also stated that they had seen a continuing trend of rising exclusions among children and young people with SEND.